Irish troops in Syria caught in cross fire incident
Up to 15 artillery shells landed within 200 metres of convoy of Irish vehicles carrying 39 soldiers
Minister for Justice, Equality & Defence Alan Shatter performing a ministerial review of the 43rd Infantry Group before their departure for a tour of peacekeeping duty in the Golan Heights in Syria. Photograph: Dave Meehan
Irish troops serving with the United Nations mission in Syria have been caught up in fighting between the Syrian forces and anti-government armed groups, with 15 artillery rounds landing within 200 metres of a convoy of Irish vehicles.
Defence Forces sources said the rounds were not aimed at the Irish but instead the Irish were caught in the cross fire of fighting related to the civil war.
The rounds caused blasts and fired shrapnel over an area that was within range of the Irish vehicles during the two incidents today.
A total of 39 Irish troops were patrolling in a UN convoy with other nationalities when the artillery fire landed next to them during the two incidents this morning.
There were no injuries reported and the vehicles, including MOWAG armoured troop carriers, carrying the Irish troops returned at speed to their camp in the Golan Heights.
The Irish Times has learned today’s near misses were the latest in a number of live fire incidents the Irish soldiers have found themselves close to since their deployment in September.
However, the other events involved smaller weapons and would not have threatened the safety of armoured vehicles the Irish are using in the same way today’s incidents did.
The first two close calls for the Irish took place at around 9am local time near the town of Durbol in the area where the Irish are based with the UN force monitoring the cessation of hostilities between Israeli and Syrian forces.
As a convoy of 10 vehicles was conducting a security patrol, three artillery rounds landed and exploded with 200 metres of the vehicles.
The convoy continued on its way when it was established the vehicles were not damaged and there were no injuries.
After travelling on for a period, the decision was taken to retrace their route back to camp, avoiding the specific area of the earlier near miss.
Around 25 minutes after the convoy had doubled back, the most serious incident occurred when 10 artillery rounds landed in quick succession near the convoy of vehicles.
A spokesman for the Defence Forces confirmed the incident had occurred and said robust peacekeeping missions could not escape experiencing live fire, especially in an area where a civil war was underway.
There are currently around 119 Irish troops serving in Syria with the Unite Nations mission there. The Irish troops are drawn from the 2ndBrigade in Dublin, mostly from Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dublin.